Is there such a thing as heart cancer?

Answers from Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.

Heart cancer (primary cardiac tumor) is cancer that arises in the heart. Cancerous (malignant) tumors that begin in the heart are most often sarcomas, a type of cancer that originates in the soft tissues of the body. The vast majority of heart tumors are noncancerous (benign).

Heart cancer is extremely rare. For example, one study reviewed more than 12,000 autopsies and found only seven cases of primary cardiac tumor. At Mayo Clinic, on average only one case of heart cancer is seen each year.

Although still rare, most cancers found in the heart have come from elsewhere in the body. Cancers that begin near the heart, such as lung cancer, can grow to involve the heart or the lining around the heart (pericardial sac). Or cancer can begin elsewhere in the body and spread to the heart through the bloodstream. Cancers that may affect the heart include breast cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and melanoma, among others.

Cancer can affect the heart in other ways, as well. A rare type of cancer known as carcinoid tumor at times produces hormones that can damage heart valves.

Cancer treatments also can damage the heart. Cancer treatments linked to heart problems include several types of chemotherapy drugs, certain targeted therapy drugs, radiation therapy aimed near the heart, and hormone therapy. Some heart problems are detected during treatment, while others may not become apparent for many years after treatment. In many cases, the heart damage is reversible, though some types of heart damage can be permanent.

March 25, 2015